Völklingen, a town in the western German state of Saarland, has had a district named after a Nazi war criminal for the past 56 years. Many residents are fighting passionately to make sure that it stays that way.
People don’t say hello to Christoph Gottschalk on the street anymore, and his wife gets snapped at when she is at the local athletic club. Another resident who shares his opinions is ignored in some bars, and the gardening club refuses to rent him a wood chipper. Gottschalk, 61, and his comrades-in-arms feel like outcasts in their own neighborhood, all because they are fighting to change the name of their district from that of a convicted Nazi war criminal.
In 1956, Völklingen, a town in the western German state of Saarland, decided to dedicate a memorial to Hermann Röchling (1872-1955), an industrialist and a Nazi, and to name a district after him. Today, about 1,300 people live in Hermann Röchling Heights, an idyllic hilltop neighborhood built next to a forest. The neighborhood is well-removed from the town’s trouble spots, and everything there would be just fine — if it weren’t for Gottschalk and his handful of kindred spirits.
They persistently point out that Hermann Röchling was a Nazi convicted of crimes against humanity, who approached Adolf Hitler in 1933 to ask him to prevent the Saar region, which was still being administered by the League of Nations at the time, from becoming a “Jewish conservation area.” As a businessman, he exploited thousands of forced laborers during World War II, and had the insubordinate workers sent to a labor camp near his plant.